Sam Belnavis and Travis Carter announced yesterday that they have formed a partnership to field a full-time NASCAR Winston Cup effort for 2003. BelCar Racing will have the Army National Guard as its primary sponsor and Todd Bodine behind the wheel...
Sam Belnavis and Travis Carter announced yesterday that they have formed a partnership to field a full-time NASCAR Winston Cup effort for 2003. BelCar Racing will have the Army National Guard as its primary sponsor and Todd Bodine behind the wheel of the No. 54 Ford Taurus. Belnavis and Carter held a Q&A session in the Daytona International Speedway infield media center to discuss their new venture as the second week of testing for the Daytona 500 got underway.
SAM BELNAVIS, Co-Owner - No. 54 Army National Guard Taurus:
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THIS DEAL? "It's really quite simple. I've always had a good feeling for NASCAR throughout my career. At some point in time I made a decision, I can't tell you when, that ultimately I wanted to be more intimately involved in NASCAR from a competitive standpoint. I've known Travis for many, many years - back when U.S. Tobacco and Miller shared suites side-by-side, so to speak. Travis, in my opinion, brings to the relationship something that I built my career on and that's hard work and dedication to this sport. I look at him as an icon in NASCAR. He's spent 30 years of his life scratching and scratching and scratching to field the best competitive team on the track. So I think the combination of the both of us will make a contribution and fulfill my commitment to the sport - not only to be competitive on the track, but to bring diversity into the sport on a positive note."
TRAVIS CARTER, Co-Owner - No. 54 Army National Guard Taurus:
"From my perspective, obviously, Sam has sort of given a history of his push forward and his thrust over the last several years to be involved. For our situation, given the current status of economic conditions and the possibilities and the work it takes to raise money to fund one of these things, Sam has been working feverishly over the last few years developing some relationships - with the Army National Guard particularly. The situation came down to where we needed a sponsor and he needed an organization to help field his efforts that he has worked so diligently to develop and provide, and we just felt it would be a natural fit. I think we're two people that can get along well. I know there are issues that he brings, not necessarily issues in a negative sense, but issues that he brings to this industry that I think we can help develop on behalf of him and his efforts. Again, it provides resources and funding to allow us to hopefully put a competitive car on this race track. This thing kind of came together a little later than perhaps we needed to it and when that happens you kind of feel yourself staying behind all the time in your work and development preparing for the season. But, nonetheless, over the last month we've done a lot of work. We've lost a lot of people within our organization, but replaced most of those people with what I think is some quality personnel. Todd made a commitment to stay with us and give us the best effort he can to drive this car and we're looking forward to the season together."
TODD IS STILL RECOVERING FROM BACK SURGERY SO GEOFF WILL BE TESTING HERE. WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO GET OUT OF THIS TEST SESSION? "Daytona is quite honestly, this test is probably all about qualifying. It's the biggest event of the year. It's one of the more difficult races to qualify for and it's all about car tuning. Tuning, tuning, tuning. Time, time, time. Money, money, money. That's our focus. We'll see where we are. We've actually built two cars and we aren't that happy with either of them. We're in the process of building a new car as we speak that we plan to probably have tested at Talladega in preparation for this race. We have a high level of confidence after the first two cars that we can improve upon that and, hopefully, we can."
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO GET OUT OF THIS TEST? "I can't imagine what it feels like, but I will tell you that it's like being a mother that is getting ready for a new birth. This is my very first test at Daytona with a Winston Cup car. I've been here on many occasions, but this is very different. I can't really express to you how I feel, except I have a high level of anxiety. I try to shield that. I know that the eyes of motorsports are on us - both Travis and myself - so I'm wearing several hats. I'm the dad waiting in the waiting room and I'm the mom with the new birth so that's how I look at it."
WHAT KIND OF CONVERSATIONS HAVE YOU HAD WITH TODD? "Todd was kind of on the fence at the end of the year. I don't know what other opportunities might have laid ahead for him, but we kind of bounced around. As I mentioned earlier, this thing was kind of late as far as tying up all the loose ends. But when Todd met with us and then we met with the people who run the Guard, he was very impressed with those people. He was impressed with the commitment they made and when he came home after a meeting in New York the weekend of the awards ceremony, he made a commitment. He said, "These people are behind this. I want to drive the car. We can have a competitive race team and I want to be part of it."
ON SPONSORSHIP. "The first thing I have to say is that I'm honored to have the caliber of an advertiser like the Army National Guard. We know the state of the country at this point in time and to be able to represent that entity in a sport such as Winston Cup is truly an honor. I consider Travis and myself to have that great privilege to do that."
WHAT WERE THE REASONS FOR DISSOLVING BH MOTORSPORTS? "I had a long-term commitment to field a successful team. There was enough coverage in the past about minority owners and minorities in Busch Grand National or other disciplines of motorsports. I did not want to have anything attached to my name that didn't demonstrate a long-term commitment - to not be a flash in the pan. So, based on that, I made a decision to move forward in my own direction with Travis."
IS CARL HAAS PART OF THIS DEAL? "No, Carl is not part of this deal. We kind of worked with Carl hand in hand and when Sam came in and became involved with us, I don't think Carl needed to be a part of that. Carl is still out there. He has a desire to be back in Winston Cup. We're kind of working year to year right now to see how things develop and there's always an opportunity that he could be involved again somewhere with me down the road. Right now the focus is on this program and that's where we hope to keep going in the future." WILL THIS BE A START-UP TEAM AS FAR AS OWNER POINTS OR WILL YOU BE ABLE TO CLAIM THE 26? "No, it's from the 26. Again, that's part of what initiated Sam's involvement with me was that opportunity to have an existing team with some equity to start the season and that's kind of my contribution to this side of our effort."
WHO WILL BE THE CREW CHIEF? Derrick Finley, who has been the engineer for us the last four or five years, has taken that role as crew chief. We really haven't made an official announcement about that, but we have now."
CAN YOU ADDRESS THE HIDEO FUKUYAMA SITUATION OR THE 66 CAR? "I'm expecting to have a meeting in San Francisco with them next week about that, but, right now, it's a little premature to predict what will happen. Not to detract from what we're doing here, but dealing with that group is a little different. You kind of talk with them and expect certain things, and then you might not hear from them for four weeks and then they might just show up at your place the next day ready to do business. They take a different approach than we do."
WOULD CARL BE INVOLVED IN THAT? "No, Carl wouldn't be involved in that either. Carl is gonna take a hiatus for a year or two from Winston Cup, it looks like. I've got to be honest with you, Carl doesn't want to forego his involvement in Winston Cup forever. I don't want people to kind of pinch me between things. Travis Carter needs to do what he can do to help his business and right now Sam Belnavis is helping our business. I'm helping Sam Belnavis and we're teamed up to go forward. Our focus, again, is on this program right now. If I do the Japanese thing, it will be a separate program but, in all fairness, I think it can enhance what we're doing here. Anytime you can sweeten that pot, it gives you a better opportunity to improve your performance in your team and personnel. The biggest thing is in development testing. It just gives you more dollars to develop and test and research and those kind of things and that's really what we need."
WHO IS DOING YOUR ENGINES? "We're doing the Yates engine deal again."
HOW DID THIS DEAL COME ABOUT? "I made a decision pretty much right after Homestead that the program needed to go a different direction, so I talked to a number of people within the sport that I respect and have guided me over my career the last 22 years. I saw an opportunity. Travis wasn't the only person I talked with, but certainly the one I felt very strongly about having a relationship with."
WHAT WAS GOING WRONG? "A long-term commitment and when I say long-term commitment, my long-term commitment and what I wanted to accomplish. So based on that, I just made the decision to move forward. It wasn't anything other than that. It was an amicable decision, but I wanted to go in a different direction."
WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN'T BEFORE? "So much. I've got Travis Carter and I think that says it all. His commitment to the sport. Travis is not your atypical owner so that makes a tremendous difference. He's a racer and he has that mentality. Not to say that anybody else doesn't, but I want to align myself with someone that has some goals down the road. As he said earlier, we're looking to make this a long-term relationship."
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT TODD BODINE? "Todd is an aggressive driver. He wants to be out there. The one thing I hadn't the opportunity to do is to have someone that was aggressive and that comes from a number of reasons why and I don't want to get into that. But right now Todd is committed. The other side of that is the Army National Guard. Todd has a very strong commitment to them. They're not really your typical commitment to a sponsor/advertiser, it goes beyond that and I think some of it is because of the sign of the times. The Guard is 100 percent behind Todd."
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT TESTING? "We have somewhat of an idea of our baseline, but we need to enhance that. We need to make sure that we have a good piece that can get us in the race."
NASCAR HAS A DIVERSITY PROGRAM IN PLACE. DO YOU FEEL LIKE A TRAILBLAZER IN ANY WAY? "I guess I am, but I don't feel that way and I guess the reason being is that it's been the story of my life, including when I brought Miller into racing. It's been like that my whole career and I think that's the best way to look at it. I don't view it as being a trailblazer, but as someone who has been blessed with another opportunity to move forward."
DO YOU FEEL ANY ADDITIONAL PRESSURE? "No, not really. I really don't and I'm happy I don't feel that way simply because my career was all of that. When Miller first decided to go into racing and I had to be out there. Back then diversity wasn't a word even being expressed, but I never looked at it that way. I looked at is as though I was doing my job. Now I'm developing an opportunity for Sam Belnavis and NASCAR and Travis Carter and Todd Bodine and the Army National Guard - to be viable in a sport that has immense growth."